The Joy of Giving Back

San Diego Humane Society celebrates National Volunteer Month   

By Christina Orlovsky Page

People volunteer for countless reasons. To help others. To express gratitude. To feel good. While we may not be able to count the reasons, there is one number San Diego Humane Society can count: 5,300. That’s the number of volunteers who give their time—whether it be an hour, a day, or a regular weekly commitment—to support the society’s mission to inspire compassion.

From in-home fostering to on-site animal care; from bathing guinea pigs to reading books to dogs; from photographing adoptable animals to walking, running and socializing potential pets; and from wildlife rescue to pet-assisted therapy, everyone age 14 and up can make a difference in the animal welfare community.

“What I love about my job is that I work with the good guys—the people who decided it’s not good enough that there are homeless animals and animals that are struggling,” says Kim Soto, SDHS director of volunteer engagement.

And it’s not just pets who inspire compassion. At SDHS’s Project Wildlife it’s improving quality of life for wild animals—birds, opossums, rabbits and raccoons—that drives the public’s passion for volunteerism.

“We have 375 active volunteers in hands-on roles at Project Wildlife’s animal care center, on our education team bringing wildlife ambassadors into the community, and in satellite care, rehabbing animals in their own home—all motivated by an overall passion for wildlife,” says Justine Matthews, volunteer coordinator for Project Wildlife.

With 13,000 wild animals in SDHS’s care each year, and 20,000 companion pets, volunteers are crucial. Since April marks National Volunteer Month—a time to honor the people who commit to giving back—here are just two of the many ways SDHS and Project Wildlife volunteers help out:

In-Home Rabbit Rehab

Brittany Blank rehabilitates bunnies. Desert cottontails, jackrabbits, brush rabbits. If they hop, you can find them in her home. When she began volunteering with Project Wildlife in 2012, she was interested only in the animal care center. But when she heard they needed help with baby bunnies, who require a specialized diet, enzymes and heating pads—and especially after hearing that all of it could be done from her bedroom—she knew she was up to the task.

“I have always loved baby animals. Once I heard the bunnies don’t need a ton of space, I thought it was perfect,” she says. “I’m able to work with them every morning and every night, in addition to my day job and volunteering in the Project Wildlife Care Center.”

In 2017, Blank took in 80 baby bunnies, as many as 17 at a time, with the goal of releasing as many back into the wild as possible.

“I know how hard it is to get them healthy enough to be released,” she says. “That’s what makes it all worth it.”

A Spa Day for Resident Guinea Pigs

Everyone deserves a spa day now and then—even guinea pigs—and Mary O’Tousa is happy to oblige. As a self-described “professional volunteer” for SDHS’s pet-assisted therapy program since 2010, she’s been responsible for taking animal ambassadors—guinea pigs, rats and dogs—into the community. But before they can make their public debut, they need to look presentable.

“There are seven guinea pigs in residence as part of the P-AT program, and each month, we weigh them, cut their nails, shampoo and blow-dry,” she says. “If we have adoptable animals, we do the same to get them spic-and-span for potential adopters. They’re enchanting creatures and I think they’re adorable—they deserve a spa day.”

O’Tousa volunteers with her 10-year-old labradoodle, Grace—a canine ambassador herself—and she finds her motivation in interacting with the public.

“It’s gratifying when the community takes an interest in the animals,” she says. “And with the P-AT group, our enthusiasm for animals and the program shines through. I’ve yet to meet a volunteer that isn’t smiling.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities with SDHS and all of its programs
—from San Diego to Oceanside and Escondido—visit


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